Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Long December

I am not relaying the following story because I at all think I am a psychic or a mystic or have any real-life extrasensory perception that would allow me admission into Hogwarts or anything. I do intend this to teach a very important lesson, though, about holding close the ones you love.

It's no secret that I am not a big fan of Christmas. For the last several years, Christmas has become simply one long to-do list that leaves me feeling wiped out, overly commercialized, and definitively Scroogy come December 25. Christmas joy has been hard to come by.

Which makes last Christmas rather remarkable. I really enjoyed myself on Christmas morning when I had my sister, brother-in-law, nephew, and mother over for our annual brunch and gift-opening. We all seemed a little more jovial than usual, and no one was quick to pack up their toys and head home in a sugar coma. My mother went completely overboard on gifts, despite a years-old agreement that we were only going to buy gifts for the two grandchildren in the family and focus instead on food and merriment for the adult children.

"Mom, you shouldn't have," I said when my generous haul had been unwrapped. "We agreed we weren't going to buy for each other anymore and just make Christmas for Kyle and Ainsley instead."

"I wanted to." She smiled and had a glass of wine.

Something made me want to keep pouring for her, even after my sister and her family left. At that time, Mom's significant other had been assigned to in-home hospice care for his cancer and I knew she was already grieving for him. I offered to have Jason drive her home if she wanted to stay past dark.

"No, I better be getting home. I don't know why, but this was more fun this year. I don't want to go, but I know I have to."

As I reluctantly watched her leave, my heart felt heavy. Jason and Ainsley retired to the basement to play with new toys, and I sprawled on the couch and watched our fire. My mood suddenly went blue, and with no one around to catch me being sappy, I cried.

Something felt...over. I had the distinct sensation that Christmas would never be like that again. It was a feeling that I would not spend another Christmas with someone who had been in that room that morning.

When Jason and Ainsley came back upstairs, I shook the feeling off. I am a pessimist with recurring mild-to-moderate depression and annual bouts of seasonal affective disorder; feelings of impending doom in December aren't terribly unusual. I wrote off the sudden sadness I felt at my mother's departure to knowing that this was her last Christmas with her gentleman friend, a man who had given her three very happy years. I took comfort that Christmas wasn't over for us; I, too, had violated the "no gifts for adults" rule and purchased a tasting at a local winery for Mom, my sister, and me so we could have a holiday-themed girls-night-out the following Friday. I would be seeing her again soon, and surely I would feel better after that.

Thank God I arranged a second Christmas celebration for us. For you know what happened next.

My mom's best friend, who tagged along with us to that after-Christmas wine tasting and dinner afterwards, called and talked to me recently about last Christmas. I told her how, the week before Christmas, I became obsessed with the idea of getting us together through the holidays. A voice in my head would not shut up about the need to, instead of buying a tangible gift for my mother, take her out and enjoy her company. And let her bring a friend. Mom's friend, too, felt sad when she had to say goodbye to my mother after our evening out and wept on her way home. She even called Mom after she arrived home to tell her again how much fun she had. We all had such a good time with Joan last December, and several of us felt something with her we hadn't before. A sense that something was changing. That Christmas 2011 was special. That she was special, and maybe not long for this world.

Even if you don't believe in such things as psychic premonition, you have to admit that human intuition is powerful, and sometimes you know deep down inside your gut when you've just seen someone for the last time.

This December has been difficult. I put up our tree and our decorations knowing Mom wouldn't be coming over to see them. I wear the gifts she bought me last year remembering the joy it gave her to surprise me with them. I prepare for a Christmas party she will not be attending. It feels empty and hollow, but I try so very hard to see the beauty.

I talked to Jason about it one night. About how even if you think you know how next year will look, and who will be in your life and who won't, you don't really know.

"Well, that's the thing, isn't it?" he said. "That's why you should enjoy every Christmas. It could be your last."

Morbid, but wise.

So, dear readers, do me a favor. Take a moment. Look around you. Appreciate the lights, the food, the smells, the sounds, as if you might not see them again. Have another glass of wine. (Unless you're driving.) And when you are with your loved ones, hold them close. Cherish them. Listen to any voice that says this might be the last time you all get together; even if that voice is wrong, the worst that will happen is that your Uncle Eddie might not annoy you as badly.

And the best that will happen is that you will have a special holiday that you can look back on when your family isn't as whole and be glad that, amidst all the hustle and bustle and stress and familial conflict, you had that one really great Christmas together.

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